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Deshaun Watson now facing negligence claims, may avoid NFL suspension in 2022

Matt Johnson

The Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Deshaun Watson to a $230 million extension as the NFL star braced for a potential suspension over 22 accusations of sexual misconduct and assault. Now, the franchise quarterback and the organization could be put in an unexpected situation.

Cleveland acquired Watson and immediately braced itself for a suspension in 2022. The organization structured Watson’s contract specifically to reduce his financial hit from a ban. With a 2022 base salary lowered to $1.035 million, he would forego less than $65,000 for each game suspended and would still receive his full bonus.

Steps were also made to reduce the on-field impact of a potential suspension. The Browns signed veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett and the club was reportedly even willing to keep Baker Mayfield with the idea of starting him while Watson is suspended.

Related: NFL QB Rankings – Check our top-20 quarterbacks, including Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Jimmy Garoppolo

Now, things have taken a turn and it could have a significant impact on the upcoming NFL season.

According to USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer, two of the plaintiffs with active civil suits against Watson have now added negligence claims against the Browns’ quarterback.

The women amended their suits to argue that Watson knowingly arranged those massages aware of his ‘sexual proclivities during massage sessions’ and he didn’t take the necessary precautions to stop them from happening with those massage therapists.

“We have also added a claim for negligence allowing a jury to assess liability for unreasonable and imprudent conduct as well. This claim is just another through which the jury can assess liability and damages against him. We will likely add this claim for most of the cases, although perhaps not all.”

Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 women accusing Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct

As part of the amended claims, the two women accuse Watson of failing to inform the women of his past sexual proclivities and “failing to take precautions prior to the massage to prevent a reoccurrence of his known prior conduct towards massage therapists.”

The addition to the ongoing civil suits, in addition to more reporting from Schrotenboer, hints this could play out even longer than anticipated.

Why Deshaun Watson might avoid a suspension in 2022

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Deshaun Watson Press Conference
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Before the NFL trade deadline in 2021, Watson reportedly attempted to settle with all 22 accusers and to avoid civil court. However, two of the women refused a financial settlement and wanted to be heard in court.

It’s notable because Watson also made it clear during his introductory press conference that he wants to fight the legal battle. While both sides prepare for the civil cases, the NFL investigation is ongoing and it might not make a ruling until after decisions are made in criminal court.

Keeping that in mind, Schrotenboer noted at the end of his report that Watson and the plaintiffs have an agreement not to schedule any trials from NFL training camp to the end of the 2022 season. It increases the chances that there won’t be a resolution until 2023.

“The two sides have an agreement not to schedule trials on these cases from Aug. 1 through March 1, 2023, helping Watson avoid them during football season. That means they might not be resolved until 2023 unless they are settled before then out of court.”

USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer on stipulation in Deshaun Watson legal battle

If that’s the case, Watson will be available for the entire 2022 season as the NFL already announced he won’t be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list. It would be a significant boost for the team’s outlook in 2022.

There could be one downside for Watson. If he is suspended in 2023, the NFL can take away a significant portion of his $46 million base salary. That is unless the Browns restructure his contract a year from now.